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Changing industry forces mid-career journalists to adapt

By Billy O'Keefe

JON OFFREDO/ The Working Press
Vicki Smith’s editor called her into a staff meeting at the Press of Atlantic City. He came equipped with a flip chart on which he wrote three letters: ‘www.’
‘Now somebody tell me what that means,’ Smith recalled her editor telling his staff.

Five things to know about switching to new media
Don’t wait for someone to invite you to learn how to use a video camera, or to send you to a week of audio editing training. Decide what you need to learn and make a plan of how you’ll accomplish that. There are lots of great online courses — some are free — that show you how to use editing software. Invest in the equipment, read the owner’s manuals and start practicing. There are no excuses.
Besides practicing, the best way to educate yourself on new media is to look at examples of it. Web surfing isn’t just for fun — it’s a mandatory activity. Set aside time every day to check out different types of Web sites: news, sports, entertainment. Find blogs that point out great work. One must-view destination is Interactive Narratives
(interactivenarratives.org), a site sponsored by the Online
News Association where anyone can post content and solicit feedback.
Learning how to use new equipment and familiarizing yourself with the jargon will take time. Expect that you’ll make mistakes and make sure to learn from them. Be open-minded about the possibilities this new technology offers. Multimedia gives you the chance to expand your storytelling, to focus on different angles, to offer readers a more dynamic experience.
Reporters and photographers working together isn’t anything new. But reporters and photographers REALLY working together, behaving as partners instead of two entities on the same assignment — that is the key to great multimedia. Collaborate, share ideas, explain what you’re thinking and why. You really can’t over-communicate.
Don’t fear the technology. You will learn the ins and outs; you will settle into a routine. We are students by profession, learning about every topic we cover. Take the same enthusiastic curiosity, combine it with your years of experience and your proven instincts, and you will master this new medium.
– Submitted by Lauren McCullough, domestic multimedia coordinator for Associated Press

It was 1995, and he was greeted only with blank stares, she said.
“WWW is the World Wide Web and it’s going to change the world and change what we do,” the editor responded to his staffers’ silence.
Smith remembers thinking to herself, ‘Yeah right. Whatever.’
“That just sounded so overblown, you know. I just thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it,’” Smith said.
Just a decade later, new media is at the forefront of most conversations about journalism’s new direction.
Whether it’s Twitter, RSS feeds or blogs, the idea of new media has prompted mid-career journalists to adapt and learn new skills they were never taught.
“I was sort of leery of multimedia for one basic reason, and that was: I worried, and still worry, that if you have one person doing too many things then the quality of those things is mediocre,” said Smith, who now works for the Associated Press.
Lauren McCullough is 25 and teaches mid-career journalists about new media for the AP. Generally speaking, her co-workers are open and receptive to learning about new media, she said.
“Everyone goes home high-fiving,” McCullough said.
Smith was in one of McCullough’s session.
“I was anxious. I was a little skeptical and I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this, if I want to do this. I guess I went into this with a divided heart,” she said.
Once while covering kids skateboarding at an abandoned building, Smith set down her audio recorder to collect ambient sound.
A skateboard rolling by nearly crushed it. That was just another learning experience while refining new skills.
Doug Cumming, a journalism professor at Washington and Lee University, made another kind of shift — from print journalism to academia.
But regardless of any transition, one thing remains constant, he said.
“Writing is key,” Cumming said. “No matter what the medium — that’s the intellectual tool. That’s primary. And no matter what form it takes or the pace or technology, if you got that, then you can learn the new tools. And there’s a lot to learn.”
Blogger Mark Glaser believes that for print journalists to survive the change, they need to be “more than just ‘print’ journalists.”
Media professionals have to become multitalented, said Glaser, who runs Mediashift, a blog chronicling the impact of the Internet and technology on the news industry. They have to learn how to shoot, edit, capture sound and maintain blogs.
With all of that, it can cause a lot of anxiety.
“Change is difficult,” Glaser said. “Journalists have been siloed in a certain way, doing a certain kind of work for decades.
“Now you’re asking all of them to rethink what they do as ‘print’ journalists, ‘TV’ journalists and ‘radio’ journalists, and telling them they have to do much more. No one wants to hear that after they’ve spent a lifetime doing their work a certain way.”